How to fire people well

So I'm slogging along, trying to find a new job, figuring I must be the only one I know suffering from unwanted job loss - an affliction I like to call premature ejobulation. (I'm spending too much time with myself.)

So I’m slogging along, trying to find a new job, figuring I must be the only one I know suffering from unwanted job loss – an affliction I like to call premature ejobulation. (I’m spending too much time with myself.)

Then I hear the horrible news that two ladies I once worked with, both brilliant and so much fun, were canned when their agency lost an account. One of these gals was off on maternity leave when she got the pink slip. How bad is that?

While I take absolutely no consolation in the fact that I am not alone, hearing the news did once again confirm for me that good and talented people do lose their jobs in this biz.

You know, I think the worst part of being a big cheese is the occasional need to fire someone’s ass, especially when clearly the firee hasn’t earned the dishonour.

There’s no training for it. You sometimes have to can people that you like. You have to look them in the eye as you kick them in the gut. I can’t think of anything worse.

And in this business, like no other, it’s frighteningly easy to find yourself in that position. A lost piece of

business. A client doesn’t spend the way they were forecasted to. Whatever the reason, sometimes you gotta do it.

I’ve heard tales of horrendous and humiliating firing tactics. I’ve experienced first-hand a gentle firing, as oximoronish as that sounds. And one thing I know for a fact is what goes around, comes around. So if you’ve got to fire someone in this small community that is advertising, know that you will meet that person again – maybe as your client.

To improve your karmic lot, I have some ideas for you unfortunates who are in the position of having to take away someone’s paycheque and live to look them in the eye again.

(Note that my purpose here is strictly to make your life, as an unwilling ender of jobs, easier in the future. The fact that people might be treated decently is a fortunate side effect.)

Use professional guidance.

If you have a major bloodbath on your hands, consider using a professional consulting firm to assist in ensuring the least amount of pain possible. I worked for one agency that had to do a massive layoff. They hired a company to help develop an action plan for a methodical and organized, uh, event.

Remember that the people

who are still left working are

a consideration, as well.

They are deeply affected by watching their friends pack up their desks.

There’s nothing worse for morale than a botched layoff. Like letting people go a couple at a time over weeks. Not communicating the situation to the remaining staff. Not having a plan for moving forward. These are all pitfalls that can be avoided and can save morale.

Utilize the early-warning system.

If you can see trouble on the horizon, give the unlucky souls a heads-up if you can. You’re forecasting at least every quarter, probably monthly. You know it’s going to hit the fan before it hits the fan. Given the chance, most folks would rather find a new job than be let go. Besides, it could save you on severance.

Do what you can to find

alternative opportunities

within the agency.

This should go without saying, but I know a guy who saved himself a job by pointing out a hole he could fill within the same agency that had given him his walking papers. Fired one day, hired back the next. Good on him and good on his agency for belatedly making it happen.

If money is the issue, maybe a potential firee would be willing to accept a smaller paycheque. Who knows? Try. This juggling will save on recruiter’s fees and the pain of retraining people.

Toot your own horn.

Make sure to let an employee know everything that you’re doing to save him. If doomsday does arrive, at least the firee knows the lengths you’ve gone to on his behalf. He’ll know that these efforts weren’t compulsory on your part and won’t totally despise you and your agency when you fire him. You could stave off an arson or something with this tactic too, you know.

Treat the firee with respect.

While being canned in this business doesn’t spell doom for anyone, it’s still an excruciating experience, especially when the firee didn’t do anything to deserve it. You may have to walk her out the door, but if you can arrange it, have someone other than the HR person supervise the box packing – a humiliating, dead giveaway that’s about the same as putting a sign around her neck that says ‘JUST GOT TURFED.’

Or let her leave immediately and come back another day to get her stuff. Try to find a way to preserve the dignity.

Provide support in any way


Leave e-mail and voice mail accessible. Allow for the use of a computer, fax machine and photocopier, if you can. Provide a letter of recommendation. Make introductions with head hunters. None of this really costs you anything but are tangible benefits that will make a difference.

My own experience with being let go was incredibly respectful. I had been given the heads up. All sorts of efforts were made to find me a new place within the agency. The bosses made calls to their networks on my behalf. My e-mail and voice-mail were left active. It was left to me to tell folks in my own way what had happened. They even upgraded my home computer.

I got a personal letter mailed to my home from the big cheese of the agency expressing regret, with an offer to help in any way. I still get calls from various bosses at the agency wanting to know how I’m doing and what they can do for me.

So, guess what? The next opportunity that I have to help my old agency or the people who work there, I’ll be all over it. Their respect and help will be remembered and paid back for the rest of my career. Imagine if they had treated me badly. People don’t forget this kind of thing, good or bad. What goes around comes around. And paybacks are a bitch. It’s karma.

Pamela Davis is a freelance direct marketing consultant. She can be reached at 416-803-8803 or Her Web site is located at